First Italian F-35A rolled out of Cameri facility.
On Mar. 12, the first F-35A Lightning II destined to the Italian Air Force rolled out of the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility at Cameri, in northwestern Italy.
The aircraft, designated AL-1, is the first F-35A assembled internationally, the first of eight aircraft currently being assembled at Cameri, that will perform its first flight later this year.
The Italian FACO, a 101-acre facility including 22 buildings and more than one million square feet of covered work space, housing 11 assembly stations, and five maintenance, repair, overhaul, and upgrade bays, is owned by the Italian Ministry of Defense and is operated by Alenia Aermacchi in conjunction with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. According to Lockheed, the current workforce consist of more than 750 skilled personnel engaged in F-35 aircraft and wing production.
The FACO will assemble the first 8 Italian F-35As and the remaining F-35A and F-35B (for a total of 90 aircraft planned that should be procured by the Italian Air Force and Navy), will build F-35A for the Royal Netherlands Air Force and it was selected in December 2014 as the European F-35 airframe Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade center for the entire European region.
On a recent flight in a Block 40 F-16 with our squadron’s weapons officer I was introduced to the new pilot-activated recovery system (PARS). Starting at about 20,000 feet (FL 200) we rolled inverted and started a rapid 30 degree nose-low dive. The pilot pressed a button initiating the PARS. Immediately the aircraft’s computer took command of the flight controls and we experienced a very intense 180-degree roll until wings level followed by a 5-G pull-up at 4 G’s/second until we were again flying straight and level. On the second demonstration we put the aircraft in a 30-40 degree nose-up attitude. After PARS initiation, the Viper went into autopilot controlling the roll and yaw of the aircraft while allowing the nose to slice down until we were again straight and level.
This PARS feature is part of the F-16’s newest upgrade to avoid mishaps due to controlled flight into terrain (CFIT). The entire fleet of F-16’s in the USAF received this important upgrade during the 2014 calendar year. This is incredibly EXCITING news for the fighter pilot community and hopefully will translate into hundreds of lives and billions of dollars saved. CFIT occurs for a variety of reasons and plagues aviation taking the lives of hundreds of military and general aviation pilots each year. Aside from PARS, the other application of this new capability is the Auto-GCAS (Ground Collision Avoidance System). Auto-GCAS provokes inputs to the flight controls similar to the PARS feature described above, but happens automatically without pilot initiation. The technology relies on sophisticated computer software, terrain maps, GPS and predictive algorithms that will ‘take the jet’ from the pilot when CFIT is predicted to be imminent.
A video HUD demo of the Auto-GCAS can be seen directly below, and further below a NASA video discussing how the GCAT technology was developed and works.
A Brief History of GCAT
The GCAT software was developed by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB, in partnership with the Office of the Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the Air Force Test Center (AFTC) and Lockheed Martin. The technology began development in the 1980’s and was ready for testing by the late 1990’s. By 2009, the Ground Collision Avoidance Technology was incorporated into an upgraded USAF Block 25 F-16D and underwent further testing at Edwards AFB, CA.
According to NASA: “The team conducted more than 556 test maneuvers during 49 flights, some of which involved diving at the ground and toward the sides of mountains. Key objectives included demonstrating that Auto-GCAS could significantly reduce the number of mishaps resulting from pilot spatial disorientation, loss of situational awareness, gravity-induced loss of consciousness, and landing-gear-up landings.”
Air Force officials announced in 2013 that an operational Auto-GCAS system would be installed in the F-16 fleet and this largely took place throughout the 2014 calendar year. At the base I am currently stationed, we received the upgrade in Sep-Oct 2014. The application has also been tested for general aviation. In 2012, Auto-GCAS was adapted for a small, unmanned research aircraft and implemented as a smartphone application using the Android operating system linked to the aircraft’s autopilot. There remain plans to develop similar systems that can be incorporated into the F-22, F-35, and F-18.
Strengths & Limitations of GCAT
Two of the most common human factors conditions that lead to death or loss of aircraft in combat aviation are spatial disorientation and G-induced loss of consciousness (G-LOC). Spatial Disorientation is the inability to determine one’s position, location, and motion relative to their environment, and is covered in greater detail in a separate post. There are three types of Spatial D: Unrecognized, Recognized, and Incapacitating. The Pilot-Activated Recovery System (PARS) will save pilots suffering from recognized and capacitating Spatial-D as long as the pilot remains able to activate the technology. If a pilot is spatially disoriented but remains unable to initiate PARS, Auto-GCAS should theoretically still save him/her from CFIT. The other big killer, the notorious G-LOC (For more info on Pulling G’s see this post), is expected to occur less frequently with incorporation of the newer, more effective G-suit called ATAGS, but Auto-GCAS will also play a role to save pilot and aircraft if G-LOC were to occur. Lastly, gear up landings in any aircraft utilizing this technology should no longer occur.
Ground Collision Avoidance Technology has some significant software and hardware limitations. For example, the system is not able to make inputs on the throttle. If the throttle is in idle upon activation, the aircraft will quickly lose maneuverability and control authority. This will limit the efficiency and ability for inputs of the flight controls to produce their desired effect. In other cases, a reduction in power may be required for the optimal recovery. Pilots have been trained on this new system and are aware of these limitations. If the GCAT systems find that they are unable to initiate recovery due to the current throttle setting, all it can do is notify the pilot.
Although this technology will undoubtedly give fighter pilot spouses reason to sleep more peacefully, possible exceptional circumstances in which the Auto-GCAS cannot prevent CFIT still exist. The recent loss of an F-16 and death of Capt. Will “Pyro” DuBois after installation of GCAT remains a tragic example of the fact that even though new technologies are creating significant strides in safety, the risk inherent to combat aviation will always be present.
An F-35 Lightning II has endured extreme weather temperatures to certify the capability of the Joint Strike Fighter to deploy to any place of the world.
An F-35B, a STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter jet, from the F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force in Maryland has undergone extreme weather testing at the U.S. Air Force 96th Test Wing’s McKinley Climatic Laboratory located at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida according to a release by Lockheed Martin.
The testing is aimed to validate the capability of the plane to operate in the meteorological conditions representative of all the locations from which the aircraft is going to operate: from the Australian Outback and the U.S. deserts, to the Arctic Circle, above Canada and Norway.
The F-35B has been ferried to Eglin AFB in September 2014 and it is expected to remain at the airbase in Florida until March 2015: a six month assessment of the Joint Strike Fighter’s performance in wind, solar radiation, fog, humidity, rain intrusion/ingestion, freezing rain, icing cloud, icing build-up, vortex icing and snow.
According to F-35 test pilot Billie Flynn, the aircraft is being pushed to its environmental limits, ranging from 120 degrees to -40 degrees Fahrenheit (49 to – 40 degrees Celsius) and so far it has met expectations.
The press release comes few weeks after an Air Force press release, reported that fuel trucks at Luke Air Force Base, in Arizona, where temperature can reach beyond 110° F (43° C) in summer months, were given a new look, by applying a two layer coating, dubbed “solar polyurethane enamel”, in order to prevent fuel stored in the tanks from over-heating: the Lightning II engine has a fuel temperature threshold and may suffer shutdowns if the fuel is delivered to it at high temperature.
Image credit:Michael D. Jackson, F–35 Integrated Test Force
The aircraft, known as AU-2, was flown on its 90-minute transit from Lockheed Martin’s plant in Fort Worth, Texas, to Luke by U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Todd “Torch” LaFortune. It was then assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing, that already operated a fleet of 17 F-35s.
The arrival of AU-2 at Luke AFB marks the first of 10 international partners starting training in the US. The second F-35A for Australia, designated AU-1, is scheduled to arrive at Luke Air Force Base in the next few days.
The RAAF is expected to operate 72 such multi-role planes from two airfields, Williamtown, in New South Wales, and Tindal, in the Northern Territory, along with the current fleet of Australian F/A-18F Super Hornet (some of those are deployed in the UAE to support U.S. led campaign against ISIS) and EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft.
According to Lockheed Martin the U.S. Air Force granted a consent to start mass production of the extended range variant of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, also known as AGM-158B.
The JASSM-ER has successfully completed the USAF program of Initial Operational Test and Evaluation. Out of 21 launches, 20 were successful. USAF plans to acquire 100 ER variant missiles within Lot 11 and 12, specified by the contract signed in Dec. 2013.
According to Lockheed Martin, more than 1500 examples have been produced so far. Target quantity to be delivered to the USAF is 4,900 missiles.
Lockheed Martin stated that the decision undertaken by the U.S. Air Force means that the flying branch is confident the new missiles can provide an effective first-strike capability in dense air defense environments.
AGM-158B JASSM-ER missile is capable of striking targets at ranges of at least 925 kilometers (ca. 500 miles), and it is armed with a dual-mode penetrator equipped with a blast-fragmentation warhead.
The missile itself has been designed, similarly as the A variant, with stealth features. Missile uses two-mode GPS/Infra-Red guidance system, which contributes to its precision strike capabilities.
So far, solely the B-1B bombers possess a capability of using the ER variant of the missile. The basic version, the AGM-158A, can be dropped by B-2s, B-52s, F-16s and F-15Es. However, back in April this year press releases by USAF suggested that JASSM-ER is to be also integrated with F-15E, F-16 and B-52H fleets.
Whilst Australia and Finland use the A-variant of the missile with their F/A-18 Hornets, the baseline JASSM is also to be procured soon by the Polish Air Force for the F-16 Block 52+ planes.
As explained earlier this year, the Polish deal, a bit expensive at the first sight (with 40 missiles worth about $250 million), should also include a modernization bundle for the Polish Air Force F-16 fighters.
The Polish Vipers are to be upgraded up to the M6.5 standard, in order to facilitate use of the new weapons system. The upgrade includes modification in the avionics to improve Link-16 data exchange system and IFF capabilities, the update of the AIDEWS defensive suite, as well as modernization of the Sniper targeting pods. Nevertheless, a larger Mid-Life Update program should be undertaken by the fleet in the next few years, according to the Polish media outlet Dziennik Zbrojny.
According to the official information released by the Polish Ministry of Defense, Minister Tomasz Siemoniak expressed the Poland’s will to procure the ER variant as well even though it is yet unclear whether the M6.5 upgrade would provide the Polish Vipers with the -ER capability in advance.
Poland has signed Letter of Acceptance, regarding procurement of the first 40 missiles on Dec. 11. 2014 at Krzesiny AB, near Poznan.
The agreement falls within the US Foreign Military Sales program and the first deliveries are to take place in the second half of 2016. One additional missile is to be delivered for test firing purposes. Initial Operational Capability is planned to be achieved by 2017, as the F-16 modernization program is to be started in the 2nd half of 2016, at a pace of 2 fighters per month.
The JASSM-ER can be considered to be a strategic weapon, so it will most probably boost Poland and NATO’s deterrence capabilities in eastern Europe: will it be an effective deterrent? Hard to say. For sure, the air-launched cruise missiles are not the only measure the Polish Armed Forces are acquiring at the moment to face the Russian threat. There are additional programs, including the procurement of NSM (Naval Strike Missile) systems.
Secondly, as one of The Aviationist readers pointed out, the M6.5 upgrade for the F-16 fighters may mean that they would be capable of using the AIM-120D air-to-air missiles that have been reserved exclusively for the USAF so far.
These missiles may provide a significant boost of the Polish Viper’s air-to-air capabilities, which would be implemented in the shadow of JASSM deal, but this claim has not been officially confirmed. The Air Force has already stated that it analyses potential implementation of new armament that may be used by the Viper thanks to the envisaged upgrades.
Lastly, as Polish MoD Secretary of State said the use of the JASSM missiles will not be externally limited by the US Authorities. This means that Poland will be free to use the missiles at its own will, if needed.